How should I respond if my child sees pornography?
This is a question I get asked often. It is an important question, but I want to actually ask this question in a slightly different way. In the way that I feel is more helpful.
How should I respond when my child sees pornography?”
Instead of if, let’s say when. It’s a slight change but is more than likely the reason why you are reading this article. And reframing it this way allows parents to be prepared for what sadly is more than likely a reality. Whether it is an accidental glimpse of an image, a classmate sharing something on their phone, or a curious search on their own phone, laptop, or tablet, your child will likely see porn. It is so easily available and sadly statistics tell us that the average age of the first exposure to porn is just 11 years old and, in most cases, this happens in the child’s own home.[i] As a parent, your response when this happens is very important.
When your child is sees pornography, it is an opportunity for two things. It is a teaching opportunity, and it is a gospel opportunity.
A Teaching Opportunity
It’s an opportunity for you to teach your child about their own sexuality and God’s good design for sex. It is an opportunity to teach them about the incredible value people have as image bearers and how we should never use other people—even if it is just pictures of them—in ways that do not honor them or the God who made them.[ii] It is an opportunity for you to teach your child about what are appropriate pictures to see of others and what are inappropriate. It is also a good chance to teach them what are appropriate or inappropriate pictures to have taken of themselves.
A Gospel Opportunity
It is also a gospel opportunity. When your child sees porn, you have an amazing occasion to bring the gospel to your child in this moment. The fact that pornography even exists shows just how far our hearts have strayed from the Lord and reminds us of how much we all need Jesus. Whether your child saw pornography willingly or accidentally it is great opportunity for you to remind them of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. People who make or engage in porn can have their sins totally forgiven. And children, who curiously explored pornography also can find abundant grace from God when they confess. Remind them that 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The kindness of God is available for all who to turn to Him.
So, keep these two things in mind—it is a teaching opportunity, and it is a gospel opportunity.
As a parent I know resources are a big when raising children. In light of that, here are a couple resources I have written on the topic of both sex and screens to help parents when asking this or other related questions.
The first is called Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World. And while the title says Raising Teens it is very beneficial for parents of elementary and preteens as well. In it I share 7 tips for navigating the topic sex. One important tip for parents to consider how their reaction to learning about a child’s exposure to porn impacts their relationship with their child. Discovering that your child has seen pornography is very upsetting but parents must bring their sorrows, anger, or disappointments to the Lord first and ask Him to help move into the conversation in a way that shows the child see that what has happened is not too big for God nor is it not beyond his grace.
The second book is called Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. It is designed to help parents who are raising digital natives. The five quick tips discuss ways to model digital discipline in your home and answer questions like “when should I give my child their own device?”
Both of these books are short and practical allowing the busiest of parents to get through them.
In summary keep in mind that exposure to pornography is likely going to happen at some point as you raise your kids. Reframing these the situation by remembering that this it is a teaching opportunity and a gospel opportunity turns these moments into opportunities of growth. And most of all remember the Lord is our helper you so lean into him in everything you face with your children.
[ii] Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:4, Romans 12:10